This book is not like other books. There are severalfold reasons any one reader might like it, and I only fulfil a few of them. A couple more and I da...moreThis book is not like other books. There are severalfold reasons any one reader might like it, and I only fulfil a few of them. A couple more and I daresay I'd be giving it five stars!
To begin with, the story is set after all the 'action' has occurred, so it's not very plot-driven. It's written in diary form, and convincingly too. The entries are meandering and thoughtful, and don't read at all like a standard narrative. The protagonist - 15-year old Mori - has a very natural voice, and gives over as much time in celebrating her latest reading experiences in science fiction and fantasy, as she does in describing her day. Indeed, Among Others is as much a declaration of love for books and libraries, and escapism and education through reading (not forgetting reading for reading's sake!) as it is a novel. Bookworms of all ages and preferences will appreciate this, though fans of the SF genre (in particular titles from the 70's, when the book is set, and earlier), will get the most out of Mori's revelations.
On the surface this is the tale of a Welsh schoolgirl - crippled and bereft - who finds herself in an English boarding school.
Then there's the magic, for though we only have Mori's word on matters, and she's suffered quite an emotional upheaval, we know from Walton that the fantastical elements aren't just made up. Whilst Mori might have quite an expansive imagination, fuelled by the multitude of books she reads, there are fairies (though not as we might expect), and she really did save the world. Magic is a tenuous thing, according to Mori, and harnessing it very subtly and intricately alters the world, as if things had always been that way. It has plausible deniability, and so can be passed off as coincidence. It's actually a fascinating and beautiful idea, well-described in the book.
The 'real world' story, which many readers might naturally suspect is truly playing out given the physical and psychological trauma Mori has suffered, and favour over the supernatural world she portrays, (claiming an unreliable narrator) is simply the aspect of the plot that is drawn from the author's own experiences, but it is not the story she chose to tell. I think the message to take away is that in a world with magic, the aftermath of a fantastical 'battle' can contain as much hurt and grief as any real-world trauma will bring; that books are as much a source of relief and joy; that the supernatural is in fact as natural!(less)
Please note, In the Night Garden, and In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente, are essentially two volumes of one "book" (The Orphan's T...morePlease note, In the Night Garden, and In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente, are essentially two volumes of one "book" (The Orphan's Tales). If I were to try writing separate reviews, they would surely bleed into one another, much like the stories told in its pages. I'll drop the inverted commas hereafter though...
The Orphan's Tales is a masterpiece.
The fact creeps upon you slowly as you near the end; as you realise the complex web Valente has spun, in which every character (and there are scores of these!) is connected in some way to those who have gone before (or are yet to come), even though the tales span generations, and vast distances.
Four tales-proper are told, but each is made up of dozens of smaller tales, nested several-deep. Reading The Orphan's Tales is like exhaustively exploring an unfamiliar city. Each path must be trodden, each turn taken, and most roads lead to other roads, so that you have to carefully retrace your steps to get back to where you started. At times you are several layers into the story before retreating and heading in a different direction. This is superbly done, and as you progress, more tales from earlier on begin to crop up peripherally, until it becomes apparent that they are all intricately connected - sometimes subtly, occasionally with some stark twist you didn't see coming.
Valente takes every mythological creature and every fairy tale cliché, and turns it spectacularly on its head. We have remorse-stricken sirens, dark and wild unicorns, and singing manticores; basilisks who think they're noble (but weasels are wicked!), and leucrotta who cordially offer up their skin to a witch-in-need. We have selkies, firebirds, griffins and huldras, and many other fantastical monsters besides. The perspectives are utterly fresh - I was delighted with them.
The author's style is certainly wordy, and unsurprisingly poetic (given her previous works). Some might criticise it as purple prose (I won't deny there are purple patches!) but generally the intricate plot and depth of characterisation can easily withstand this. The base plot - that of a young girl in the palace gardens reading the crown prince stories inked mysteriously onto her eyelids - felt ever-so-slightly flat at times, likely in contrast to the exotic and colourful details of the tales themselves, but these interludes are very lightly peppered throughout, and are the only occasions I thought the writing a little over-ornate in-context. They improve a good deal as the story goes on, too, seeming less contrived, and sweeter. The style may be flowery, but it is ideally-suited to to the concept. Valente was ambitious, but carried it off almost perfectly. The ending is strong and heart-warming, and brings the thousand-odd pages together into a beautiful whole, leaving me quite affected.
The is the second-only instance in a life of reading, in which, having finished a book, I've wanted to go back to the beginning immediately, and read it again. (The first was with The Gormenghast Novels). This speaks for the intricacy of both the over-arching story, and the writing, in that I know I would glimpse new things, appreciate the myriad plots in a yet more relative way, perhaps dwell on the prose a little longer, and not tire of it in the slightest.
I was blown away by how masterful this story is. If you appreciate fairy tales, mythology, poetic prose, the frame story and story within a story literary techniques, or just high-quality fantasy, you simply must read this book!(less)
This book, which accompanies A Fine Frenzy's recent concept album Pines alongside an animated short of the same name, has been lovingly placed on my "...moreThis book, which accompanies A Fine Frenzy's recent concept album Pines alongside an animated short of the same name, has been lovingly placed on my "fairy tales" shelf, though in truth it has a lot more depth than your average fairy tale.
The story is centred around a lonely pine tree - the last inhabitant of an ecosystem devastated by deforestation - and her journey in search of life, love and purpose. Somewhere between verse and prose, Alison sudol captures the meandering thoughts of her protagonist in a whimsical style, albeit similarly wandering. It feels effortless - not in the least put-on - and so it works. The childlike colloquialism of the speech adds to the charm of the tale as it plays out. The characters have very general names ("Pine"; "Bird"), which I think lends itself to a story that is applicable everywhere, and lends strength to the moral, which is far from blatant, but would not do to be overly subtle given Sudol's stance as a conservationist. As stated in Chapter Nine, One pine just isn't a Forest, no matter how big that pine tries to be.
The plot is simply heart-breaking at times, drawing tears on more than one occasion, but it houses a lot of joy also, and wisdom. In this sense it is a worthy companion to the album, which in its ground state is gentle and quiet, but is scattered with heavier, haunting tracks and lively, heartening tunes.
The illustrations (by Jen Lobo) are beautiful. Sketches in a kind of sepia, only with dashes of rich colour here and there; drawings of woodland birds and beasts - incredibly lifelike, yet occasionally with some slight detail that defies imagination (an airborne kiwi with wooden "wings"; a fish wearing a helmet and goggles...) The illustration of countless things of flight (animate and inanimate: birds; bats; balloons; kites...) carrying Pine through the air is a joyous sight, nothing short of breathtaking.
This book is delightful and worth every penny I spent.(less)
This is the best stand-alone Discworld novel I've read so far, albeit one peppered with cameos from more regular characters (Death, Nanny Ogg, an Igor...moreThis is the best stand-alone Discworld novel I've read so far, albeit one peppered with cameos from more regular characters (Death, Nanny Ogg, an Igor...). Being a book about time, it's also peppered with metaphysics (and physics-proper to some extent), and for all its jokes (and it IS hilarious), it is both a very wise, and a very human book. The ending is surprisingly tender for a work of Terry Pratchett(view spoiler)["Even with nougat you can have a perfect moment" (hide spoiler)].
The nature of the auditors is explored in much greater depth here than in Hogfather, and in reading about their experiences (particularly Lady LeJean's) in human bodies, we learn a lot more about these peculiar beings - we end up reflecting on what it is to be alive, and it's more humorous all round! Corporeal auditors also make much better villains, which Thief of Time is in need of since it lacks a human antagonist.
Two things (intrinsically linked) make this book brilliant rather than just good. These are Lu-Tze, and The Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite. The fact that the humble and revered sweeper's philosophy is based on the sayings of an old lady from Ankh-Morpork makes for a very amusing apprenticeship for young Lobsang Ludd, whose preconceptions are of course to be proved pretty off-base. The practical, down-to-earth nature of Lu-Tze endears me to the character, in much the same way as Granny Weatherwax's use of headology. Both wield a great deal of power but need it not to demand respect, because they understand people, which is usually ample. The "teachings" of The Way are nothing more than the scoldings of a parent-figure; inescapable wisdoms known to every child. Is there really anything in the world more reverable than that? Exactly.
Classics include (For is it not written) There's no time like the present, Hard work never did anybody any harm, I was not born yesterday, and my personal favourite (potentially lost in translation) Do unto otters as you would have them do unto you.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)